Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Weinstein Company releases "Bully" to all theaters in a PG-13 version; attendance (when I went) disappointing


The Weinstein Company first released “Bully”, by Lee Hirsch and Cynthia Lowen, only in New York and Los Angeles on March 30. The MPAA Ratings Board insisted on the “R” rating for  a few bad words.  

After a fight, where the MPAA guarded its political stance, TWC took out the few passages and the film was released widely April 13.

I bought a ticket online for the AMC Shirlington in Arlington VA, early Saturday PM, expecting a big crowd, but (in a large auditorium) the turnout was sparse and disappointing. This surprised me, given the build-up for this film in the media, covered on my TV blog (March 27, April 2, April 7). Just two weeks before, someone at the theater had said that he didn't think this film was coming there. 

The film covers the experiences of several teenagers in Mississippi, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Iowa, in their experience with being the target of the taunts of others. One of them took his own life at 17.  Another girl brought a weapon onto a bus. Nothing happened, but she faced multiple charges, which were dropped after psychiatric intervention. Another female, in Oklahoma, was actually able to get her father to accept her as a lesbian, and her father says that there is nothing like being forced to experience something you only have heard about.  But Alex Libby, in seventh grade in Sioux City, Iowa, is somewhat the star of the film.  At 14, and now in high school, he has been on some television shows, especially Arnold, and is obviously more mature and self-confident now in public than he could have been in the film.

There is a scene at home where Alex’s father asks him why he takes the taunts, and says that as a result his younger sister will face the same harassment because he didn’t stand up to it.  Alex says that his father’s “reasoning” doesn’t make any sense to him.  Why is he responsible for protecting other people (siblings) when he can’t protect himself, and others won’t protect him?  Later, he tells his mother he doesn’t feel anything.  The parents have a meeting with an assistant principal, who says she can’t make the problem, of the taunting on the school bus, stop, but she can try putting him on another bus.  This scene follows an earlier one where another administrator tries to get a victim to shake hands and accept the apology of the perpetrator. 

Why does this go on?  Why can’t schools stop it?  I can answer this somewhat from my own perspective.  I grew up in the 1950s in the Arlington VA school system and was physically “behind” and subject to teasing in grade school and “junior high” (grades 7-9 then).  It was not as “bad” as some of what happens in this film.  I had the impression that I was viewed as a drain on others, in a war-weary world where there was a sense that people had to work together in a social structure and men had to protect women and children.  So kids would try to improve their sense of “social power” in the eyes of peers.  I remember making a scene over being expected to “hit back”, but in seventh grade, I could “fight with my fingernails”, and in one case, do some damage.  In ninth grade, I became the perpetrator once, joining in the verbal abuse of one boy who had a seizure in class.  I cannot believe that I would have done this.  (The school nurse actually called me in and reprimanded me.)  Psychologists talk a lot about the immaturity of the teenage brain, to understand indirect consequences of actions and moral layers.  “Disability” in those days was seen more in “moral” terms; there was less done about it than today.  In senior high school, however, there was no bullying at all.  The administration didn’t tolerate it and had a good handle on the problem.  I walked to school and did not ride school buses. 

When I worked as a substitute teacher, I ran into issues in a few instances, and they were serious enough to contribute to my stopping. It was a potentially a very difficult thing to anticipate when you didn’t know the kids, particularly in middle school.  In one case, a student wrote an anti-Semitic slur on a sticky pad and put it on a girl, when there was no chance that I could see it happen.

I can recall a few years ago that the Fairfax County Public Schools advertised heavily to hire school bus drivers on DC area television. But how many bus drivers really know how to handle discipline problems on buses?

There is little attention to the online issue here with social networking sites in this film. 

The official site for the film is here and is called "The Bully Project".   The production company is “Where We Live Films”.

The film should not be confused with similarly titled films from the Southern Poverty Law Center (2010), and Lionsgate (2001), both reviewed here Nov. 15, 2010 and Oct. 15, 2010. 



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